Thursday, December 14, 2017



Navel n. the central point of a place by Rica Bolipata-Santos
(University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, Manila, 2016)

Memory as a Propulsive Force in Prose

"Truly, the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."

Rica Bolipata-Santos as a mother, with all her reminiscences of struggles with having a son diagnosed of autism and her accounts of pre-marriage concupiscent desires, creates a propulsive force in her prose. And this force is all the more propulsive with her sincerity for a tell-all, for deciphering a hieroglyphics of pain. When pain is sincerely yet prudently shared with imminent readers, ease is its sole destination. The pain of the past could not be taken to oblivion, but giving it form - by talking about it - will render a serene form of communion with readers. "I think it was partly therapeutic for me to keep talking about it. It was a way of making something so difficult take a form, a shape, a story that would make things accessible." This "baring mechanism" exquisitely done by Bolipata-Santos turns her sophisticated essays into an unconditionally loving woman's accounts accessible to those who could relate, as well as to those whose life patterns are different from the author's inclinations.

Her essays under "Teodoro Essays" are the most painful to read, for they range from stories of hoping that her son Teodoro could live against odds to reflections on how difficult it is to live out motherhood while performing loco parentis to her students. "When I am asked what are my favorite things in the world, my answers are: rain, trees, and stillness. I learned this from Teodoro. It was he who assigned meaning for me." At once a haunting compilation of a mother's sorrows and an inspiring tome of piercingly honest humanity, Navel cannot be contained within an archetype. The reader's perceptions on marriage, life, and death, as well as how he looks at his experiences, will tell how this book reverberates the individuation of suffering and the solidarity of the concept of survival.

Rare are the times when a reader chances upon a book that deals with a woman's sexual desires. An esteemed writer and teacher lays on the table the cards embossed with brave, bold, and brazen recollections of marriage's "first nights". Her essays demonstrate what a keen listener she is, keeping in mind what older friends advise her in a wife's despairing moments. She reflects on these pieces of advice and asserts that she has her own ways and means of dealing with her body and mind thirsting for attention and relevance. "All the married women warned me that the first serious talk would certainly be about money. I felt such shame that this talk was about my sexuality." The persona spoke of shame, and this recognition of a weakness is a sign of strength in itself.

Indeed, she's not afraid of how her students and colleagues would look at her, after having read her memoirs of first loves. In "What To Do With All Those Old Loves?", Bolipata-Santos recounts her mistaking of teenage infatuations to true love. "He reached effortlessly, grabbed the blue light bulb from the hanging low of lights, unscrewed it, and handed it to me. Really, I felt that he was giving me the world." Someone else might argue these declarations as too "cheesy" or "corny", as adolescent remarks far from a morally, spiritually stable mind. The essayist, nevertheless, just gives what's asked of her: brutal truths that heal a wandering spirit. And with that, Bolipata-Santos went the extra mile.

Like how a navel possesses a symbolic affirmation of union - between creator and the created, between the giver and the receiver, between parent and offspring - this book filled with letters of unspeakable joy in the midst of daily copings connects the readers with its author. The author, who happens to be a strong, intelligent, and "desirable" woman, disdains her role as the more powerful element in the communication process. She is the one more vulnerable, as her life's debris are like bread crumbs which, although dominating the metropolitan park, end up in the mouths of migratory doves. Yes, Bolipata-Santos wills to be consumed by individuals yearning for homeward significance. And that's what stories are for, to be consumed by utmost hunger and relished with sheer satisfaction.


Aloysiusi Lionel Polintan is a Senior High School Coordinator of Divina Pastora College in Gapan City, Nueva Ecija. He loves reading and writing poetry, and everything that ranges from Bob Dylan to Hozier, and from Mahalia Jackson to Christina Aguilera. He is doing research on intangible cultural heritage of Southern Novo Ecijanos. He maintains a blog:  /react-text

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